Is my roommate gonna feel weird that I’m gay?
( Katie Delk / Rowdy Magazine Online Writer)
I was terrified to tell my roommate I was gay.
When I (Morgan) started college, I carried myself like I didn’t really care what other people thought about my sexual orientation. But sitting in a twin-size bed just ten feet away from a randomly assigned stranger, I found myself battling an unfamiliar knot of anxiety in my chest.
Is she going to feel uncomfortable sharing a room with me? Will she not want to be my friend? Could I be putting myself in an uncomfortable, or even dangerous, situation by outing myself?
These thoughts swirled around in my brain for a big part of my freshman year, even though I had a girlfriend the whole time. It was long-distance, so it was relatively easy to hide.
“Yup, just my nightly FaceTime with a friend from home!” I’d fib, not only to my roommate but many of the other girls on my floor, as well.
Though I’d gotten friendly with a lot of them, I felt very uncomfortable sharing anything about my relationship or still-developing identity with them. I’d shy away from conversations about dating out of fear that I’d somehow compromise my living situation by being honest.
Maybe they’ll think I was checking them out in our communal bathroom.
I never was, but the anxieties brewing stopped me from sharing this part of myself with people I had otherwise gotten very close with.
Eventually, my girlfriend wanted to come visit. I knew I could have passed her off as just a friend staying for the weekend, but I thought that hiding it would be even more awkward than the risk of being open with my roommate. Plus, I’d gotten friendly with my roommate over the past several months, and I knew that she was a relatively liberal person on other fronts. I’d also started to immerse myself in more queer-centered spaces and felt like I at least owed it to myself to be honest about who I was.
I knew all of this, but my hands were still shaking as I blurted out, “Is it cool if my girlfriend comes to visit this weekend?”
My roommate gave an enthusiastic yes — And that was it.
Nothing changed between us, there was no big production, and I didn’t have to explain or defend myself for just being, well, myself. (In fact, she later hung up my rainbow pride flag on her side of the room because I had run out of wall space.)
While I feel fortunate that my roommate was accepting and know that a lot of my hesitance was rooted in real safety concerns, I came to understand that many of the anxieties I had about outing myself were deeply rooted in internalized homophobia.
Cultural norms are practically taped to our eyes and inside our minds, so naturally, any exception to these norms can often be judged, even if subconsciously. In this heteronormative society, where heterosexuality and conformance to a gender binary is expected, internalized homophobia is a part of going against those norms.
Basically, not everyone is straight or cisgender, but people assume others are because that is what our society has historically deemed as “normal” or the default.
The characters we watch on TV play a large role in creating this default.
If I (Katie) grew up with a show that normalized queer and nonbinary characters like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, a lot of the questions I had as a kid - like what even is gay, first of all? - would’ve been resolved. I would’ve felt satisfied. Instead, I had to settle for shows that danced around being gay and paraded straight women.
The shows and movies that did show queer characters were limited, and still are. Often, their whole identities as a character was centered around being gay. They lacked depth. They lacked assortment.
In Good Luck Charlie, for example, a lesbian couple was briefly introduced in 2014, and the characters responded with shock that a child had two moms. Despite the fact that the women were only in one episode, groups protested the inclusion saying that the topics of gay families are too “difficult” to understand. (I hate to break it to you, One Million Moms (not really), but a lot of people figure out who they are attracted to from a young age)
I cannot recall another time I saw a queer character on TV as a kid.
When mainstream media depicts heterosexual relationships as the status quo, we feel inclined to believe the negative stereotypes that can be associated with queerness. This can lead to queer people experiencing internalized homophobia.
According to a 2016 study by Jessica Burgess, internalized homophobia involves “private feelings of segregation and self-hatred in relation to sexual orientation.”
This can manifest as the anxieties that I (Morgan) experienced during my first year of college. I had absorbed all of society’s little subliminal messages about how being gay was bad or gross or that gay women were automatically attracted to and sexualized any woman they saw.
An offshoot of internalized homophobia is internalized biphobia, which many bisexual people can experience.
But remember, sexual orientation is more like a rainbow — everyone has different experiences and can choose, or not choose, any label they feel comfortable with and express them in any way they want.
While I (Katie), was able to plaster my identity across the walls — decorating my walls with feminist art, a pride flag and a “love is love” painting — the internalized homophobia that comes with being in intimate settings with my same gender has manifested in other ways.
In middle and high school, I remember how even sitting close to another girl sometimes made me nervous because I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable. From a young age, I had internalized these ideas that LGBTQ women are assumed to be attracted to any woman - but just like everyone else, they are not.
Because of our culture of heteronormativity and the internalized feelings which can result from it, coming out to a roommate may be really, really scary. On top of that, there are some very valid concerns for your own safety if you’re paired with a homophobic roommate.
It’s unfortunate that queer people still have to calculate these risks, but there are a few ways you might be able to gauge whether or not it’s a good idea to come out to particular people, especially if you’re sharing an intimate space with them:
Like I (Morgan) mentioned previously, I had enough conversations about social and political issues with my roommate to see how she tended to lean the same way as me in other areas. While this doesn’t always exactly correlate to opinions about LGBTQ people, context clues can help you get a feel for how safely you might be able to come out.
One’s social media can be telling of their views.
Paying attention to what your roommate posts can offer insight that helps you make your decision. Likewise, letting them follow you on social media can be a way for them to see past pictures with your partner, for example, or the pro-LGBTQ stories you reshare.
Remember, you don’t need to sit down with anyone and hold their hand as you explain that you’re gay and ask if that’s alright with them.
After I flippantly mentioned my girlfriend in conversation to my freshman year roommate, I realized how different I would have felt about it if I had just switched the word “girl” with “boy.” In fact, I likely wouldn’t have had to think about it at all. Since heterosexuality is the default, bringing up your queer relationship as casually as a straight person can helps to normalize the idea that there’s no “right” way to experience attraction or love.
Abandoning the self-doubt and concern that comes with internalized homophobia is like surging out of a black hole that sucks you down. But, you can do it. And once you do, you’ll be free to shine with the stars.
Morgan Goldwich is an online writer at Rowdy Magazine and a fourth-year journalism and women’s studies student at UF. You can usually find her at a local coffee shop, petting her latest foster cat or on social media @morgangoldwich.
Katie Delk is an Online Writer at Rowdy Magazine. Her simple pleasures include meditating, sitting beneath trees, writing poetry and blasting '70s music. She cares immensely about the earth, powerful women and social justice. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org more info.